'Saving Mr. Banks' review: 'Mary Poppins' is the sugar here ...
The best that can be said of 'Saving Mr. Banks' is that it is a good movie. The worst that can be said is 'Mr. Banks' makes 'Mary Poppins' look like the only legitimate live-action Best Picture Oscar contender Disney has ever produced.
In short: Legendary filmmaker Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) tries to convince author P. L. Travers (Emma Thompson) to let him adapt her children's classic, Mary Poppins. As Travers fiercely defends her book, she reflects on her difficult childhood with her beloved father (Colin Farrell). (watch the trailer)
'Saving Mr. Banks' is a very fine movie, but it's more a sweet valentine for 'Mary Poppins' than a legitimate Best Picture contender.
The unstoppable force-immovable object dynamic between Disney and Travers is the core reason 'Mr. Banks' works. Their equally passionate, but opposing stances, constantly ramp up the dramatic tension.
Hanks and Thompson are well cast as Disney and Travers. Hanks is affable and charming while Thompson is resolute and ever-irritated with the Disney-ification of her story.
Although Disney's efforts to bring Mary Poppins to the big screen drives this film forward, Travers' relationship with her father forms this story's heart. And of all three main actors, Farrell is given the most room to work with as Travers' father: he is as much a wonderfully charming father as he is a sad, self-destructive man.
For its many strengths, 'Saving Mr. Banks' flirts with being slightly derivative, buying much of its goodwill from Disney's most successful Oscar contender ever, 'Mary Poppins' itself. Whenever the story is about the stall out, a well-timed allusion to the original Mary Poppins magically falls into place.
Ultimately, the conclusion is a somewhat disappointing resolution to the conflict between Disney and Travers. The two characters spend virtually the entire running time at complete odds with each other - and the 'resolution' is surprisingly flat and unimpressive
This becomes a problem because the entire film is propped up by the great tension/conflict between Disney and Travers. The final resolution that wraps up 'Mr. Banks' is such a underwhelming scene - where stakes are never raised - that it unfortunately, and sadly, unravels all the great Disney-Travers dynamic established in the first two acts.
Final verdict: 'Saving Mr. Banks' has all the fundamentals of an Oscar contender: superb acting and sharp script. And it's impossible not to have 'Let's Go Fly a Kite' stuck in your head afterward. While this is a fine movie in its own right, 'Saving Mr. Banks' does a better job of revitalizing nostalgia for 'Mary Poppins' than establishing itself as anymore more than a good/OK character drama.